Late Syrian Prime Minister Khaled al-Azem commemoration event

Khaled al-Azem (Died: 18 November, 1965)

Khaled al-Azem (Died: 18 November, 1965)

Responsible for an economic boom from 1941 onwards, late Syrian PM Khaled al-Azem will be remembered at an event on June 1 (today) at the Rida Said Hall (University of Damascus). Economist Ghassan Kalaa will be delivering a lecture about al-Azem along with editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine, Sami Moubayed.

Organized by Forward Magazine’s sister magazine, Aliqtisadi, the event will take place at 6pm.

Al-Azem is one of Syria’s leading figures in contemporary history.

Paolo Coelho tells Syrians: My writings are influenced by your Sufi tradition

In Paolo Coelho's first-ever interview with a Syrian media out let: My writings are influenced by Sufism, prevalent in Syria
In Paolo Coelho’s first-ever interview with a Syrian media out let: My writings are influenced by Sufism, prevalent in Syria

Paolo Coelho tells Syria’s Forward Magazine he is influenced by mystical Islam brewing in Syria

Paolo Coelho, the Brazilian writer who invaded the world stage with his thundering book The Alchemist , the source of inspiration for many around the world, told Syria’s leading English-speaking magazine, Forward, his writings were influenced by the Sufi traditions of Islam – mostly based is Damascus. Coelho made his debut in a Syrian media oulet last March, emphasizing his great admiration of Sufi figures, such as the famed Sufi dervish and love poet, Jelaluddin Rumi.

“Indeed, Sufism has inspired me a lot throughout my life and I refer to this tradition in some of my books such as The Alchemist and more recently The Zahir. Rumi is of course the first figure that springs to mind. His teachings and visions are incredibly subtle and clear,” Coelho told Sami Moubayed, the known Syrian political analyst and editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine.

Sufism, being the mystical order of Islam, is a natural part of Syrian life, with dervishes and Sufi Sheikhs from around the world considering Damascus as their spiritual center and homeland. Mostly populated by followers of the Naqshbandi order, Damascus is home to the tomb of Ibn Arabi, the widely studied Sufi leader and author of the Meccan Revelations, celebrated by Western scholars as one of the most enigmatic publications to date. Sufism is a non-violent spiritual path towards understanding man’s relationship with God and his/her fellow human beings, through the power of Love. Most of Syria’s Muftis (Religious Leaders appointed by government) are Sufi.

Coelho also revealed that the Arab character (Sharine Khalil) in one of his recent novels is inspired by a real person, from whom he weaved the threads of a story he was longing to tell; referring to it as the “feminine side of God.” Coelho said he believed that the strength of influencing people comes from the freedom contained in each one of us – whether Muslim, Arab, Western or Latin. When writing the Alchemist, Coelho was under the influence of Spirituality, which in his opinion came from curiosity. He believes that whether you like it or not life itself is a pilgrimage, a concept widely shared by Sufi thought and approach.

The interview appeared in Forward Magazine’s issue of April 2009.


About Forward Magazine:

Forward Magazine is Syria’s leading English monthly, published by Haykal Media. Our ‘writer’s list’ includes names like David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Hala Gorani of CNN, and Riz Khan of Al-Jazeera International. We have also had cutting edge-interviews with leading figures from the political world. Our CEO and publisher, Abdulsalam Haykal, was recently named by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader, as the first Syrian ever to deserve the title.


Carter v.s Forward Magazine: 1st Syrian media outlet to conduct an interview with a U.S President

Forward Magazine is the first Syrian media outlet to ever carry out an interview with an American president. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is the first American leader to speak to Syrian media – he spoke to Forward last month and broke many important news, including:

  • The appointment of a US ambassador to Syria is expected soon.

Jimmy Carter speaks to Syrian media outlet, Forwrad Magazine (1)

The 1st American president to give an interview to a Syrian media outlet…

Carter to Syria’s Forward Magazine: I’m carrying Assad’s good greetings to Obama

DAMASCUS (January, 2009) – Former American President Jimmy Carter said that Syria and the United States can expect there are “better times ahead” for their bilateral relations. In the first-ever interview for an American president with a Syrian media outlet, Carter told Forward Magazine, Syria’s first independent English monthly, Carter implied that the near future will see the return of the US ambassador to Damascus, filling a post that has been vacant since relations plummeted in 2005. Such a move will coincide with re-opening of the American school in Damascus, Carter said, in addition to reopening the American Language Center – both of which were closed by the Syrian government after US warplanes raided the Syrian town of Abu Kamal last October killing 8 civilians.

Speaking to Sami Moubayed, Forward’s editor in chief and Syria’s top political commentator, Carter confirmed that he “will be carrying some good greetings to the leaders of the new administration, through my meeting with President Assad.” During his visit to Syria, the fifth since 1983, Carter met with President Bashar al-Assad, whom he described as “popular among his people.” They discussed Syrian-American relations, in addition to regional developments in the Middle East, including the peace talks between Syria and Israel. Speaking of the involvement of the upcoming administration in Washington, Carter asserted that Obama cannot “put enough pressure on either Syria or Israel to yield on their basic principles.” He added, “My hope and my belief are that there are enough compatibilities between the two parties to reach a final agreement.”

The full text of this exclusive interview appears in the January 2009 issue of Forward Magazine (Syria).

Justice for Gaza: You can make a difference!

Syrian Activism

Forward Magazine January 2009 cover, Syria Make a differnce! E-mail or fax your protest message to U.S senators, congressmen, governors and state legislators! For their contact details visit:

The cassette generation

"My friend’s 5-year old daughter chats with her father on MSN. She sends him all kinds of nudges, winks, and smileys, although his office is a short drive from his home. Times have changed indeed. When I used to call my father long distance to Europe (punshing the number over and over—via ‘pulse’ dialing) I used so scream to make myself heard..."

The cassette generation

Sami Moubayed

I have been writing too much politics in FW: lately; now is the time for some light nostalgia.

I walked into a music store with my good friend Karim Tabba the other day, and asked for a cassette. “We don’t sell them anymore” replied the attendant, with a big smile on his face. It suddenly hit me; the generation gap that diffrentiated us from our elders and which we once mocked repeatedly, has quickly crept onto our lives as well. When we were 18, for example, we would glare at a balding 30-year old, with white streaks on his hair and children, as “Ancient!” 30 was so far away. I remember when CDs were invented, followed-up by medium sized Video-CDs, and then the modern version of the DVD came along. Our generation learned to use the Internet during their final years in college, or when they first began their working careers. The new generation—now in college—do not remember the world without DVD or Internet. They never used “Double-Cassette Players” to customize a cassette of songs for their high school sweetheart. I once asked a young girl, now turning 19, whether she had ever written a hand-written letter in her life, “bought stamps for it, licked them onto the envelope, and then mailed it from the post office, either to a friend or beloved?” She smiled and looked back at me, as if I were a Brontosaurus Rex. One of the most intimate and warm methods of communication, I still beileve, which outdoes email by a thousand years, is a hand-written letter—sent or received—or a love-letter from one’s beloved.

My friend’s 5-year old daughter chats with her father on MSN. She sends him all kinds of nudges, winks, and smileys, although his office is a short drive from his home. Times have changed indeed. When I used to call my father long distance to Europe (punshing the number over and over—via ‘pulse’ dialing) I used so scream to make myself heard, because of the bad connection. Our Damascus had no mobile phones or Internet; no “tunnel” in the Umayyad Square, just orange and red lightbulbs for decoration, and a colorful variety of Mazdas and Lancers, driving around in circles. We played football in the streets and got a tremendous kick out of the first fast food joint to open in Damascus—Express Restaurant—at the Meridian Hotel. It offered items that looked like McDonalds; Big Macs, nuggets, and real French Fries.

During our early romances, we used to passionately call up a loved ones home, what we know call a “landline,” and hang up over and over whenever her parents picked up (they often said very bad things to us). Young lovers nowadays don’t do that anymore; they don’t even dial the number. They just press a Fast Dial on their mobile phones, and it calls her cellular number. She picks up directly and immediately, or sends an SMS telling her courter when exactly he should call her back. We used to eagerly wait for dance parties in Damascus (with a astronomical entrance fee of $500 SP) and hope that a young lady would agree to join us for a dance, dreaming that it would be a long one, like Bryan Adams’ track from Robin Hood. They never—ever—let us get “too close.”

Our favorite location was a small, worn-out parlor called Uno—our Syrian version of McDonald’s in the 1980s and early 1990s. We frequented a ice-cream shop called Ramez. There were no ‘nightclubs’ in Damascus (back then they were called discotheques)…no Backdoor or Marmar, certainly no In-House, Segafredo, or Costa. The famous hang-out, Sahara Café, was a classy restaurant we would go to on Thursdays with family, and behave because of the ‘serious’ atmosphere. Our entertainment came from Syrian TV, Syrian TV Channel 2 (in English) and Jordan TV. We had no cable TV until the mid-1990s. We played videogames on an Arabic computer Sakhr (with a huge cartharege diskettes) and were made to believe by our parents, that if we played too long, the adapter would explode! Only those growing up in Damascus in the 1980s would understand the joke, I believe.

Having said that, those who preceeded us—those who grew up in the 1970s—had none of our worries, and also, none of our pleasures as well. They listened to Abba and danced to John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever. We listened to Ragheb Alameh and Michael Jackson. Our parents generation swayed to Elvis Presley, Um Kalthoum, and Frank Sinatra. Of course there have been cross-generation iconic figures—like Tintine, Um Kalthoum, Abdulhalmim Hafez, and Nizar Qabbani, but many of them have not been passed down to the generation that is now in their early 20s. I remember walking into a class of 40 people, all aged 18-19, the day Syria’s legendary playwright Mohammad Maghout passed away. Not a single one of them knew who he was. I explained that he had written the political masterpeice Ghorba, acted by Duraid Lahham. Surely they would know Ghorba, if not from re-runs on TV, then from their parents. Only a few had “heard of it.”

Black & white classics were still popular when we were in high school and college. Young people don’t watch them anymore. Why would they, with the colorless images, poor sound quality, and bad resolution, when they can get Hollywood mega-productions on DVD, with Dolby Sound and great visual effects, on their LCDs? When I was a child, I believed that the world had been black & white and became “colored” during my lifetime. Naïve and creative—no doubt—but its just a glimpse at how a younger generation views the world we lived in, with no Internet, mobile phones, SMS, or DVDs.

Magazine, Sami Moubayed Magazine, Sami Moubayedipod


Sami Moubayed is the editor-in-chief of FW: Magazine, Syria

Abu Hussein’s pending invitation to Damascus,0,7629801.story

Sami Moubayed

In the Muslim world, men take pride in their first born baby boy and are often called “the father of X” for the remainder of their lives. In turn, first born boys are named after their grandfathers, and this explains why Syrians have been effectionaly been calling Barack Obama, “Abu Hussein” (father of Hussein). He does not have a baby boy—just two beautiful girls—yet that doesn’t really matter for the overwhelmed Syrians who woke up to hear the good news coming in from Washington on November 5: “Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States.” As far as they are concerned, his father’s name is Hussein and when Obama gets a baby boy, he is going to call him Hussein. That is the tradition in the Muslim world after all, and Obama comes from Muslim lineage in Kenya. Gamal Abdul-Nasser of Egypt was “Abu Khaled,” Hasan Nasrallah is “Abu Hadi,” Yasser Arafat was “Abu Ammar” and for masses in the Arab world, Barack Obama is “Abu Hussein.” This terminology was coined by ordinary Syrians who watched the presidential race with enthusiasm—glad to see the end of George W. Bush. Educated Syrians are also amusingly calling him “Abu Hussein” but they have no illussions that the new president-elect is going to be a savior for the Arabs. They hope that he will be more fair and even-handed when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and end the tension that started between Damascus and Washington DC under the Bush Administration. They realize, however, that his election shows just how far America has come in terms of racial equality, and everybody in Damascus—young and old—is impressed.

In August, hosted by an American organization called Search for Common Ground, three Syrians went to Washington DC and met with think-tanks, newspapers, and loyalists of Barack Obama, discussing ways to move billateral relations forward once Bush leaves the White House. For the past 12-months, Damascus has welcomed a wide array of US officials, who are either members of the Obama team, or supporters of the new President. All of them came carrying a similar message: No dialogue with Damascus under Bush has been un-productive for the region and the United States. That is going to change, they said, when Barack Obama reaches the White House. All of them were warmly received by the Syrians, at a popular and official level, including top advisors former Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer and former National Security Advisor under Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski. The latter even spoke to students at one of the new private universities in Syria, who applauded stronly whenever he mentioned the name, “President Obama.” Syrians were especially thrilled when Obama refused to praise the US strike on Syria last October, unlike his Republican opponent, John McCain. Syrian dailies and magazines have been running front page news of Obama—almost neglecting McCain—and Syria’s leading English monly Forward ran a cover story asking, “What Michele Obama can learn from Asma al-Assad (the First Lady of Syria).” In another article called “Obama and Syria” the Damascus-based monthly wrote, “If Obama wins and becomes president, expect an updated version of the foreign policy of Jimmy Carter. And expect warm relations between Syria and the US.” On November 5, Syrians congratulated one another with SMS messages carrying Obama’s three words, “Yes, we can!”

Officially, Syria is yet to comment on Obama’s victory, and President Bashar al-Assad was often quoted during the presidential race saying that Syria waits to see the positions of either canddiate towards the Middle East once he reaches the White House. Official Syria was worried, after all, at Obama’s strong support for Israel—although it came as no surprise—during his visit to Tel Aviv. They have not forgotten the overwhelming support Arabs showed for George W. Bush in 2000, thinking that he would be a much better president for the Arabs, than Al Gore. Therefore, officially, its still a “wait-and-see” policy although there is universal unsaid conviction that McCain would have been an extension of Bush and at least, Obama—a man who champions change—is going to be “different.”

The Syrians are willing to cooperate with Barack Obama on a variety of issues, prime on the list being Iraq. In the words of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem, Syria will help secure an “honorable exit” for the US from Iraq. They were this close to suspending diplomatic relations with Baghdad, after Prime Minister Nuri al-Malki failed to prevent the October strike on Syria—which was launched from Iraqi territory—but did not do that, to keep channels open with the Obama Administration and in order to better deliver seucirty in Iraq. Troops have been reduced from the border—but not withdrawan completely—in objection to the raid, but security coordination with Baghdad (at a ministerial level) remains in-tact, to prevent jihadists from crossing the border into Iraq. If Obama sends off positive signals to Syria, troops can return to the Syrian-Iraqi border. Syira’s newly appointed Ambassador Nawaf al-Fares remains at his job in Baghdad, building bridges with Iraqi Sunnis (he himself hails from a prominent tribe that overlaps between Syria and Iraq). On the day of the Obama victory, President Assad receieved a delegation sent to Damascus by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Scores of Iraqi leaders—Shiite, Kurd, and Sunni—have been coming to Syria for the past 4-years, meeting with Syrian officials who are trying to build bridges between waring factions, to help normalize and stabilize Iraq.

Syria can also still use its weight in the region to moderate the behavior of non-state players like Hizbullah and Hamas, and find solutions for the US standoff with Iran over its nuclear program. What the Syrians are expecting 11-weeks from now, when Obama is sworn-in as president, is the following:

  1. Appointing a US ambassador to Syria. The post has been vacant since Margaret Scooby was withdrawn when relations plumeted over Lebanon in 2005. That would be accompagnied by greater room to maneuver for Syria’s Ambassador Imad Mustapha, who has always been persona non grata with the Bush Administration, because of his criticism of how outgoing President Bush treated Syria since 2003.
  2. An end to the anti-Syrian rhetoric coming out of the White House and State Department since 2003. That would automatically reduce the massive anti-Syrian material coming out of the US media.
  3. Recognition of Syria’s cooperation on border-security with Iraq.
  4. Cooperation with Syria to deal with the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria.
  5. Lifting—in due course—sanctions that were imposed over Damascus and abolishing the Syrian Accountability Act.
  6. Willingness to sponsor the indirect peace talks with Israel, currently on hold in Turkey. That is something Bush curtly refused to do since the talks started in April 2008, claiming that Syria was more interested in a peace process, than a peace treaty. Syria is sincere—because it wants to restore the Golan Heights—and the new White House must acknolwedge that in order to deliver peaceful results in the Middle East. American guarantees and willingness to serve as an honest broker can make these talks successful, the Syrians believe, transforming them from indirect to direct negotiations. Syria is determined to regain the occupied Golan Heights (taken by Israel during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967) and Obama must help Syria achieve that, if he is sincere about change in the region.
  7. Regonizing that no problems can be solved in the Middle East without Syria, vis-à-vis the Palestinians, Iraqis, and Lebanese. Bush launched his famous “Roadmap” for peace between Israel and Palestine, but bypassed the Syrians. If another “Roadmap” were to be launched, Syria would have to be included.
  8. Help Syria combat Islamic fundamentalism that has been streaming into its territory from north Lebanon and Iraq. The deadly September 27 attack in Damascus—which left nearly 40 Syrians between dead and injured—should have been a wake-up call for the Americans that unless cooperation is forthcomming from the US, Syria might become a battleground for the extremists, as the case in the 1980s. Intelligence cooperation and technical assistance with the Americans is needed to curb and combat the Islamic threat.
  9. Apology, compensation, and explanation for the air raid on Syria that left 8 Syrian civilians killed in October 2008.
  10. Help normalize relations between Syria and America, on a people-to-people level, which have been strained since Bush came to power in 2001. That would include lifting the horrible surveilance conducted on Arabs in the US by Homeland Security after 9-11, and give visas to Syrians wanting to study or work in the US.

When that is done, Syria is willing to open both its arms to Abu Hussein, receiving him perhaps as a guest of honor in Damascus, the way it did with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Damascus.